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Critical-Care Nurses Specialize in Saving Lives

Critical-Care Nurses Specialize in Saving Lives

Jennifer LeClaire | Monster Contributing Writer

With an ability to think quickly, act decisively and stay calm when lives are at stake, critical-care nurses are among the in-demand healthcare professionals who make life-or-death decisions about patient care every day.

Critical-care nurses treat patients at high risk for actual or potential life-threatening health problems and also tend to the emotional well-being of those patients’ families. That’s no small task, given the current current shortage of nurses in critical care — a shortage that’s expected to worsen as the level of patient acuity increases and the Baby Boomers age.

To help fill the current gap in this high-intensity specialty, hospitals are looking for temporary or traveling critical-care nurses, with requests up 45 percent in 2003, according to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).

Critical-Care Nurses on the Front Lines

Critical-care nurses draw on good communication skills, endless compassion and the ability to concentrate amid a patient crisis to succeed in their roles.

“Critical-care nurses are usually type-A personalities,” says Michele Mazurek, RN, director of the surgical intensive-care and surgical open-heart units at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago. “You need to be extremely organized and methodical in your work. You need to be able to handle stress. You can’t be easily swayed by the circumstances.”

And since “critical-care nurses have a level of autonomy that most other nurses don’t, you need to have confidence in your skills and be able to make quick decisions about patient care,” says Jeanette Hermann, a nurse recruiter at Phoenix-based St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, which is building a new wing that will add 144 new beds for critical and acute-care patients.

Critical-Care Settings, Certification

Critical-care nurses account for nearly 323,000 of the 1.36 million nurses working in hospitals, according to a 2004 Department of Health and Human Services study of the registered nurse population. Hospital settings in which critical-care nurses work include intensive-care, cardiac-care and transitional-care units; emergency rooms; and postoperative recovery units.

Outside hospitals, critical-care nurses are increasingly in demand in home healthcare, outpatient surgery centers and clinics. They can also become nurse educators, nurse researchers and nurse practitioners. Median critical-care nurse salaries are in line with the national median salary for nurses.


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